There's a shill line that comes up every time a privacy or government snooping scandal breaks, that only people who have something to hide get angry about invasions of their privacy. I want to be very clear: I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that I have never personally felt afraid or angry about the government having information about me. For some reason, I don't have the strong emotional response that most of my friends, and particularly some of those whose political views I most respect, have. And it worries me that I might be missing something.
I can completely understand not trusting politicians, of course, but only in the sense that we need better politicians. The rhetoric I hear from what I'll somewhat clumsily label the 'pro-privacy lobby' suggests that they consider privacy a basic human right on a par with freedom of speech. Now, I take it as a fundamental principle that there should be a reason for any basic right, and I can't see one for privacy.
Equally, I don't have a clear argument why it shouldn't be. I could argue, I suppose, that governments need information to base their decisions on, but most of the information they need can be harmlessly anonymised. I could argue, too, that people who are willing to share their personal lives on facebook (and with any number of other private corporations who are far more likely that governments to be evil rather than just incompetent) don't get to complain about violations of privacy, but that's trite and ad hominem.
Perhaps the most compelling argument is that governments aren't really likely to be able to use the information they gather, never mind that they're not really interested in the kind of stuff we generally care about keeping private. There's a legitimate question of whether a phone recording being stored in a machine somewhere where no human being will ever actually listen to it constitutes a breach of privacy, or the breach only occurs when an actual human being tunes in. It's a variation on the 'if a tree falls in the forest' question, I suppose.
But none of these arguments really satisfies me. They're interesting points, worth discussing, but I've discussed them at length with various people before. What interests me here is purely the psychological disconnect I'm experiencing. Why, at an emotional level, am I not scared of the recent story about NSA snooping (apart from the fact that it's mainly about the US - I'm a one-world kind of guy, after all)?
Okay, I'm British and thus don't have quite the level of automatic distrust of government that seems hard-wired into all US political activism, and I grew up in a very trusting and trust-worthy family environment, but it can't be that simple, can it? I have friends with very similar backgrounds who are fiercely pro-privacy.
So (and this is probably the only time you'll ever hear me say this) scare me. What am I missing? Why is there a strong right to privacy?